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A light mist caressed the ground around Galt's old wrinkled feet. Raucous partygoers were streaming past him, celebrating the new year, although for the life of him, he couldn't figure out why. His CCE badge sparkled cheerfully with a reflection of their bright banners, emblazoned with such catchy phrases as, "Happy 2501!" and "I don't have to buy the time to know it's 2501!" He found himself wondering why they were prohibited from knowing what was currently going on -- solely because they had spent their money on booze instead of news. He didn't usually rhyme his thoughts like that, but this was a special occasion, and he felt it important to be as festive as possible.

Only a few hundred miles away, mothers, children, and even a few fathers were going about their daily business, consumed in mortgage points, day care, entertainment programming, and the costs of obtaining the information necessary for their survival. Unfortunately, there was some information they were unable to obtain, such as the much-guarded and highly-expensive product from the Center for Celestial Events. They were not cognizant of the meteors racing towards them as they serenely grazed about the pasture of their daily routine.

  
 
The Center for Celestial Events was just one of the many, many corporations involved in a purely virtual industry -- the collection and sale of information. They employed research scientists, physicists, astronomers, and various other trades in order to discover and predict weather patterns, meteor showers, eclipses, and other things of a less publicized nature that he preferred not to dwell upon. They were employed by many corporations, including the governing corporations of most nations on the planet.

Since 2491, there had been no old style democratic or socialist governments in place. They were all corporate. The corporations were able to run things more smoothly, provide better products and services to the citizens (customers was the preferred term), and provide for an overall standard of living that was better than it was before -- at least materially or "on paper" as the live-in shareholders preferred to call it. This new scheme had resulted in a global marketplace where language, nationality, age, disability, and gender were no longer considered. The single distinguishing factor in the new economy was money. All arguments were moot if they didn't boil down to a single deciding factor: monetary gain or loss.

In this economy, anything and everything was for sale, and nothing wasn't. If you wanted to buy a book, you paid for it. Libraries were done away with as an unprofitable business. (People hardly went into them anyway, so they were rarely missed.) Books were not the only form of information for sale. In fact, every piece of information had a price. If you wanted to know when the next eclipse would be, what the weather would be like on Tuesday at 8:53 AM over the 23rd shingle from the west corner of your house, or anything else regarding celestial events, you had to contact one company and one company only: The CCE.

He pondered these things as he listlessly strolled past the home office of the CCE, imagining a blazing stream of furious rock and ice, raining down upon the unsuspecting populace in their unlucky little region of the world. (He frequently found himself thinking and saying "upon" instead of "on" because it sounded so much more grand.) In an instant, an entire corporate city and much of the surrounding countryside would be decimated, for they did not have funding for -- nor the money and expertise to discover -- one very important fact. A rock the size of a mainframe computer, circa 1950, was heading their way and did not concern itself with who or what was in its path. No solitary moth would impede the course of this object!

Wiping a glistening tear from its salty resting place, he couldn't help thinking of the one over-arching question that was searing a path through his burdened mind: Why should information be a chargeable item in the first place? What were the proper information items to charge for, and how much should they cost? Should all information be free, all information charged for, or somewhere in the middle? Obviously all information shouldn't be for sale only, as that is what had caused this unspeakable disaster in the first place. No, there were only two items left to consider now.

He pondered the following ramifications: So what if the current situation was completely reversed? What if all information was free? He vaguely remembered a story about an artist information service formerly known as "Napster."

Apparently this information service had attempted to allow individuals to exchange information for free! The gall of these troglodytes was unspeakable! Apparently, a certain group of humans would form around a common name they called a "band" and then produce various melodic information items known as "music." This was obviously a saleable item by today's standard, and most of the time the "bands" would, in fact, attempt to sell their information.

The problem ensued when a copy of previously paid information was made and then certain persons distributed the copies among people enlisting in the sharing service. Obviously, whether the copy was made or not, the "band" would have had no knowledge of the scenario and would not be put out either way. But was there an ethical issue involved?

Unlike today's standards, back then a company might try to argue a point on ethical grounds. They would try to convince the populace that their motives were purely ethical and not monetary. "Such a debacle would not be endured in our advanced society!" he thought to himself. The thought of an organization that existed to make money attempting to argue ethical points had vile consequences on his gastro-intestinal tract. It usually sent him running to the nearest waste receptacle, retching his guts out among the discarded information items of other passersby.

So was there an ethical issue at all? Obviously an information item obtained free-of-charge is an information item that is not purchased and thus deprives someone of revenue. That much had been written by the Supreme Court, Ltd. in 2341, and every school child was aware of that policy... To argue it was pointless.

Could the world exist as a completely free exchange of information and ideals? What if the instant you thought of something it became public property? He thought to himself that property is a relatively relative issue, and for the most part no one in this age considered anything to be something other than personal property. Well, he and most other school children of that time period had learned that to lose personal property rights is to lose all of your rights. And since just about all rights extend from personal property rights, at least those had to exist.

Thus reassured, he pondered, "If personal property rights were going to continue to exist, where would the solution be for this problem of the centuries?" He knew that something created of his own free will, whether it be music, software, hardware, or a book, would be his private property. To distinguish between electrons in digital formats and characters in printed formats was just silly.

To take away someone's own creations would be like the old style governments who taxed their populations in those barbaric times. So the tricky part came when he started to think about selling his creations and the virtual copies that might be made of it. Once he created a piece of music and decided to sell it, did he own all versions and all copies of that music? He decided to compare it to printed materials, which had been around forever. If he wrote a book, he would authorize a publishing company to make copies and sell it to the populace, returning a certain portion of the proceeds to himself. If someone decided to make a copy of one of his books, that would be an unauthorized copy and hence illegal. The same thing would then apply to digital materials, so any unauthorized copy made of a digital, printed, or any other type of information would be illegal and would depend upon the law for enforcement.

If someone wanted to provide free copies, then that was up to him or her, but it was a personal decision that must be made by the creator, not by an idealist trying to steal his creation. But one thing he realized was this: all information should not be charged for and all information should not be free. It was, as with most things, something personal that depended upon the originator to do the right thing.

Thus disburdened from his weighty moral issues, he decided to go back into the CCE and make whatever changes he could to bring these things about. He walked into the lobby, and the receptionist greeted him warmly. Perhaps a bit too warmly, but warmly nonetheless. "Good evening, Mr. President! Must be nice to have all of this as your very own, able to make changes in the world at will!"

"Yes and no, Howard.... Yes and no."

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